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Alabama Federal Court Partially Grants Motion to Dismiss SOX Claim On Exhaustion Grounds

On May 29, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama granted a motion to dismiss in part Plaintiff’s whistleblower retaliation claims under SOX on the grounds that the Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against the Defendant CEO.  Wingo v. S. Co., 17-cv-01328.

Background.  Plaintiff, a Project Manager, informed his supervisor that a project was on track for a delayed Commercial Operation Date (“COD”).   Plaintiff alleged that after he informed his supervisor of his findings, management pressured employees to take dangerous shortcuts and continued to tout that an on-time COD was possible, because governmental and private incentives were contingent on a timely execution of the project.  Plaintiff allegedly reiterated his concerns to management and ultimately expressed his concerns to the CEO.  Plaintiff alleged that management began to retaliate against him and he was subsequently terminated.  Plaintiff then submitted a report to the SEC and filed a SOX whistleblower retaliation complaint with OSHA.  He then filed suit in federal district court, naming his employer and the CEO as defendants. 

Rulings.  The CEO moved to dismiss the SOX claim against him individually, arguing that Plaintiff’s OSHA filings poorly communicated his charges and failed to properly reference him, despite naming him as a defendant.  The court agreed, concluding that OSHA was not on notice that it should investigate the CEO’s alleged conduct.  Thus, the court granted the CEO’s motion to dismiss.   

Implications.  This decision is a favorable result for individual defendants in SOX cases, who are sometimes improperly named as parties and where claims against them in OSHA complaints are lacking.

© 2018 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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About this Author

Brett Schwab, Proskauer Law Firm, Labor and Employment Attorney
Associate

Brett Schwab is an associate n the Labor & Employment Law Department.

While attending the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Brett served as the Co-President of the Entertainment & Sports Law Society. Brett was also a Senior Editor for the Journal of Business Law and a Senior Advocate for the Employment Advocacy Project.

Brett’s professional experience includes placements with the Philadelphia 76ers, Wells Fargo Bank, and Comcast-Spectacor. His ideas on NBA Draft Lottery reform have been published...

212-969-3659
Steven J Pearlman, Labor Employment Law Firm, Proskauer Law firm
Partner

Steven Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the firm's Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group, resident in the Chicago office. Steven’s practice focuses on defending complex employment litigation involving claims of discrimination and harassment, wage-and-hour laws and breaches of restrictive covenants (e.g., non-competition agreements). He has successfully tried cases to verdict before judges and juries in Illinois, Florida and California, and defended what is reported to be the largest Illinois-only class action in the history of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

312-962-3545